Dixie had just gotten to the kitchen and pulled out a container of her mother’s leftover macaroni and cheese casserole when she heard a car door close. She stepped over to look out the window above the sink with a view of the front lawn and driveway. Her heart sank. Her mother was home and she hadn’t had a chance to eat or rest before facing the firing squad. Dixie scolded herself. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. She should give her mother the benefit of the doubt. The least she could do was hear her out.
Dixie went back to scooping the gooey macaroni into a dish and put it in the microwave. Sharon came in as Dixie stood propped against a counter, waiting for her food to finish heating. Sharon paused by the door, took note of Dixie’s things strewn across the table, and went to put her own purse and keys in their proper place on a hook by the back door. The microwave beeped and Dixie took her food to the kitchen table. Sharon stood to face her, hands lightly resting on the back of the chair opposite Dixie.
“I imagine I needn’t tell you what I think of your escapades this morning, young lady.” Her mother’s voice had an edge like steel.
“No ma’am.” Dixie responded meekly, surprising them both.
“Well what do you have to say for yourself? You’ve publicly humiliated your family, and made a fool of yourself. Right in the middle of town!” Her mother waved an expressive hand. Her tone had become shrill.
Dixie looked down and took a bite of her steaming food. Oh, God, she prayed to herself, I don’t feel like the bigger person. I’m mad! You’re going to have to help me be kind.
She swallowed and looked up at her mother. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Her mother’s face flushed. “Is that it? You still haven’t given me an answer for your behavior. Are you trying to be insolent?!”
“What do you want me to say, Mother?” Dixie fought to keep the edge out of her own voice. “What behavior are you referring to? When I stepped in to defend a friend who was being beaten by three men larger than himself? I wouldn’t have let a dog be beaten in that way, much less a human.” She realized her words had become infused with passion. She lowered her tone and said,“I don’t feel that my actions need explaining. I think they’re quite clear.”
“Young lady, I don’t think Mrs. McDonald thought they were so clear when she saw you throw yourself at that boy. Sitting on the ground with him in such an unladylike fashion! She relayed something very different to me.”
“Well Mother, who are you going to trust? Someone who’s out to enjoy her daily gossip or your daughter? It’s not like I was having a picnic with him. I sat on the ground because he’d been knocked unconscious.”
Sharon’s eyes were conflicted. Dixie saw her mother hadn’t considered that possibility. Just as quickly a hard determination entered them again.
Her voice was softer but no less firm. “Regardless, Dixie, we are responsible for our own reputations. You should have called the police and moved on. Don’t get involved with ruffians.”
Dixie was feeling exasperated. “Mother, I’m sorry you are embarrassed by my behavior, really I am. But I saw no other way to respond than the way I did. I feel no reason to be ashamed.” She had finished her macaroni and stood to put her dish in the sink. “I’m feeling tired, I’m going to lie down. Surely there’s nothing more we can have to say on the subject.”
“Oh, I disagree,” Her mother hissed. “There’s a great deal more to be said on the matter. I forbid you to see that boy again as long as you live in my house!”
Dixie whirled on her mother. The fire Sharon had been expecting all along was in her daughter’s eyes now. “And if I disagree? What? Are you going to kick me out?”
“Yes. I will. No daughter of mine is going to behave in such a reckless manner as long as I have anything to do with it.” Her mother’s words were measured. They found their mark and cut like a blade.
Dixie paused and looked at her mother. No doubt she was a beautiful woman, stylish, poised, even at times possessing a real graciousness. Maybe her dad was right, maybe a head-on attack was the wrong way to approach her. She wanted her mother to understand, to care about Kenny too. “Mother,” Dixie’s voice was gentle, “what is it you’re afraid of?”
Her mother’s eyes opened wide. “I’m afraid of my daughter ruining her life with her headstrong ideas and wild behavior.” Sharon spat the words.
“Mother. Seriously? I did well in school. I have a job. I don’t do drugs, or drink. I’m responsible. I’m hardly reckless or hanging with the wrong crowd. Unless you call Sadie and Angela the wrong crowd. I think I deserve a little more credit than that. You make it sound like I’m out of control!”
“You are out of control!” Her mother yelled. The grip she had on the chair in front of her had turned her knuckles white.
“Compared to you maybe. Daddy doesn’t seem to have a real problem with my behavior. Have you talked to him about it?”
“Your father has always doted on you, spoiled you. You could never do any wrong as far as he was concerned!”
Dixie saw something strange lurking in her mother’s expression; resentment, disgust, jealousy? That was it, jealousy. Why would her mother be jealous of her dad’s love for her?
“Maybe it’s because he knows I have a good heart. I don’t behave “wildly” as you put it, for the sake of being wild. I care about people, Mother. I want to understand what’s important in life. Daddy doesn’t seemed threatened by that. But you do. I want to know why. I think you’re afraid of something.” Her voice softened. “What is it, mother? Why are you afraid?”
She saw her mother’s face go white with rage, her hands trembled. “How dare you,” Sharon seethed through clenched teeth. “Get out of my house!” She reached out and flung the ceramic pitcher of flowers across the kitchen. As her husband came in the back door she began to sob. In an instant he looked between the two and took in the situation. “That’s enough Sharon.” His voice was firm. He was by her side, hand on her shoulder in a few steps. “Tell her. Tell her what you’re afraid of.”
Her mother buried her head in her hands and wailed, “I can’t!” Her voice was muffled in her husband’s chest, “Oh Richard, I can’t, don’t make me.”
Dixie watched the scene unfold before her with confused horror. What was going on? Joe must have known what he was talking about after all. Her mother’s unraveling embarrassed her but she stood rooted to her spot, uncertain what to do.
Her dad looked up from consoling his wife. “It will be okay, honey. I’m going to take your Mother upstairs to rest. We’ll talk later.” He turned to lead his distraught wife from the kitchen, arm around her shoulders, talking gently as to a child.
The silence in the kitchen after her parents left rang in her ears. Dixie knew some southern women were given to hysterics. But not her mother. This was an altogether new and unnerving experience. She hesitated to go upstairs to her room, not wanting to intrude upon their privacy. Hadn’t her mother told her to leave? Maybe she should go to a friend’s house. She walked in slow motion to the pantry and got the broom and dustpan out. After cleaning up the smashed pitcher and crumpled flowers she sat back down at the kitchen table and grabbed her phone to text Bo.
Hey Bo. Having a rough day. Are you busy?
She waited a moment, hoping she could go spend time with her friend. A month ago it would have been Sadie she texted, but for some reason, in spite of this morning’s friendly breakfast, she wavered.
No Dix, just working on the car. Come on over.
Dixie smiled. That’s just what she needed. An afternoon tinkering in his workshop; the smell of motor oil, loud country music - perfect. She’d spent a handful of pleasant afternoons with her friend passing the time while he worked on his baby.
:) On my way!
She grabbed a sticky note from the fridge and left her dad a message; Dad, hanging at Bo’s, be back later, call if you need me.
Dropping her phone in her bag she grabbed her sweater and a diet coke from the fridge and headed out the door. She had just pulled out of the driveway when her phone rang. It was Angela’s number.
“Hey, Dixie. I heard what happened to your friend today. Honey, I am so sorry. Is he okay?”
“Thanks Angela. He’s going to be all right. He’s staying with a friend in a safe place. Has a busted eye and probably a broken rib, but those will heal.”
“Aww, man, that’s awful though. Do you know who did it?”
“No, I don’t know ’em. But we ran into the guys at the race last night and they were giving Kenny a tough time. I guess they found out where he lived and followed him.”
“Is there anything I can do Dixie?”
“Honestly, Ange, I think the best thing you can do is pray for Kenny. He’s hurting emotionally as much as physically. And you can pray for me too. My Mother is furious!”
“I’m sorry Dixie. It took a lot for you to stand up for him. I think you were brave and I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, but you would have done the same thing. I didn’t even think about it at the time. I wouldn’t want anyone to be bullied.”
“I know, but it cost you more than it would cost me. You have a different reputation to maintain, at least your family does. I fly under the radar better. I don’t matter so much. But this is going to cost your family. I suppose I can’t blame your mom for being upset. But it was the right thing to do, and I’m proud of you!”
Dixie was curious about Angela’s words. How would it cost her family? But she let it go and instead said, “Thanks Ange, I appreciate the encouragement.”
“You bet, Dixie; let me know if you need anything. Talk to you later.”
Dixie hung up and noticed she’d missed a text from Sadie.
Dixie paused. Should she put it off? Or should she get it over with? She wasn’t hopeful her conversation with Sadie would be much like the one she’d just had with Angela.
She came to a stop sign and pushed call.
“Hey, Sadie. What’s up?”
“I think you know what’s up.”
“I probably do.”
“Dix, what happened to respecting each other’s feelings. The minute you leave the café you end up in the middle of a brawl? Like some common hick! I don’t understand. My parents said there is no way you’re staying here while they’re gone. I don’t get it. What is this person to you? I thought I was supposed to be your best friend. But you are putting our friendship at risk.”
Dixie had never considered Sadie selfish before. She remembered the friend who had shared her lunch every day with a little boy in third grade who didn’t have enough to eat. Had she changed so much? Was she so intent on finding a husband in polite society that she had become a snob? Dixie had to ask herself if she was willing to risk throwing away a friendship over this. Was she the one taking things too far?
“I’m sorry you feel that way Sadie.” She wanted to yell at her friend that she was being a jerk. “Of course you matter to me. I had no idea when I left Fannie’s that Kenny would be attacked. It’s not how I would have wanted things to turn out. But right is right.” She wouldn’t back down, no matter what it cost. “I’m not willing to allow someone to be beaten just because they’re different. I stood up for you once. And now I’m standing up for Kenny.”
There was quiet on the other end. Then a sigh.
“Oh, Dix. I know you did. And I know you are a caring and compassionate person.” Sadie’s voice was wistful. “So many times I’ve wished I was like you. But I’m just not that brave. Our plans are off for now and my parents have asked me to keep some distance between us. I need time to think about these things. But I love you.”
The phone beeped. Sadie had hung up.
Dixie’s chin wobbled and her eyes smarted. That just stunk. A dull ache in the pit of her stomach felt a lot like abandonment.